In the last couple of years the UFC and other no-holds-barred events have caused a major upset in the belief-systems of many martial artists. This has especially been the case as regards to Karate and TaeKwonDo, since inevitably, its practitioners entered the ring confidently and left it utterly defeated. The only stand-up fighter to have had any success is Maurice Smith and he’s a kickboxer with several years of grappling training with the Shamrock’s.
So it’s obviously time to put an ad in the paper reading - “Wanted: One Jiu Jutsu Gi in exchange for one well-used Karate Gi”!
I think not. To not take heed of the lessons of the UFC
is foolishness, but to go overboard in the other direction is even greater
stupidity. What one needs to do, is to analyse the situation correctly
What has really happened? A grappling-oriented system (Brazilian Jiu Jutsu and more recently wrestling) has beaten stand-up fighters. As has been argued quite correctly by others, everything favoured the grappler. Eye-gouging, groin-strikes, biting, etc. was forbidden (no-holds-barred??), the ring was padded and the grapplers had the element of surprise, i.e. they knew not only their own stuff but also what the opponent would be doing whereas the striking artists often had no idea of what to expect. Fair enough, lack of preparation is no excuse! We’re just running through a few facts here, so bear with me please.
The Gracies have been training for, and fighting challenge matches over the last forty or fifty years. Most of them started training at pre-school age.
All of which doesn’t change the fact that the Karate and TaeKwonDo stylists got their butt kicked (or their windpipe compressed or whatever). This is not the issue (unless you are looking to earn a living as a NHB - fighter). Even all the excuses given are not really the issue.
The real question and the only relevant one is: “Why are
you practising Karate?” Why is the ten year old schoolgirl or the twenty
year old college student in your class?
Let’s look at the possible reasons. Could it be for self-defence? Let’s assume so. What would be some really scary self-defence situations that are highly likely to happen in the real world. An opponent with a knife perhaps or maybe multiple opponents. Would grappling be an appropriate response for either? Only if you’re suicidal would you roll around with a knife wielding opponent or with an opponent when his buddies are using your head for football - kicking practise. What about Rorion Gracie’s argument that you cannot fight multiple opponent’s anyway since you should just visualize training to fight two or three copies of yourself? A silly argument, since the whole reason for training is that, should you eventually face two or three attackers simultaneously, they would not be copies yourself, in terms of competence you would be far superior. In about fifty fights in nearly four years of night-club work as a eighteen to twenty-one year old karate brown belt, I only went to the floor three times. So much, on a personal level, for the 95 percent - of - all - fights - go - to - the - ground - rule! Also, three or four of these fights involved surviving (without running away, as that was the job) a multiple-attacker situation.
This is by no means unusual, I have several friends who achieved the same results with similar qualifications.
Fair enough, if you are not used to grappling, you will
have problems if the fight goes to the ground. So everyone runs to buy
the latest grappling videos featuring hundreds of highly complex techniques.
The main reason stand-up fighters fail on the ground against even third-rate
grappler’s is that movement on the ground is utterly different from movement
standing up. Standing movement focusses on the use of the leg muscles,
movement on the ground uses the muscles of the abdomen, lower back and
hips. The primary focus should thus not be learning chokes and armlocks,
but rather moving to create space and using this space to escape back/up
to a standing position.
Our task as complete martial artists should not be to be good at everything (that is next to impossible, unless you’re a full-time martial arts student or have a rich father) but rather to be good or at least competent at defending ourselves AGAINST everything. So yes, as a brown or black belt you should roll around on the mats, but more with the idea in mind that you are learning anti-grappling rather than grappling as such. This of course implies that you either train with some grappler’s or that you learn some basic grappling skills so as to be convincing attackers (More on correct ant-grappling practice in a future article).
The hierarchy of self-defence needs, however, means that defence against a mugger with a knife or against multiple attackers take precedence and for this stand-up skills are required. In so far as your Karate system has realistic training in this regard (?!?) One could thus say that Karate addresses the self-defence needs of the average student better than a grappling-oriented system, one needs to address the issue of what to do if the fight does go to the ground.
There are many other reasons for studying the martial arts other than self-defence (if not, explain musical kata, new-age Tai Chi, and gasshuku’s). Many people enjoy the movement aspects of the martial arts, whether it’s doing a gracefully flowing Tai Chi form in the forest or a powerful and explosive karate kata. Many like the idea of sparring as a game or sport and not as a self-defence drill. As such, one of the requirements should be that it is reasonably injury-free. With the exception of the odd bloody nose or chipped tooth (depending on the dojo) this is the case in Karate. Kumite is exciting, adrenalin producing and fairly safe.
In grappling, this is not necessarily the case. One can ride or partially absorb a blow whilst standing up, but on the floor, body to body, it is often much more difficult to avoid accidental injury. A thumb or finger caught in the opponent’s gi, a shoulder lock put on too fast, a badly executed break fall when thrown; the author for instance has had more injuries in six years of grappling (torn meniscus, damaged knee ligament, dislocated shoulder, sprained fingers and wrist) than in twenty five years of stand-up arts, including nearly four years as a night-club bouncer in Cape Town’s harbour area.
Then there’s the aspect of character development. The Brazilian Jiu-Jutsu practitioners I have met are fantastic people, friendly and helpful, highly competent and more than happy to share their knowledge. If one looks at such Master practitioners such as Rickson Gracie, one sees the embodiment of the warrior spirit, not because he never loses, but rather because of the way he lives, talks about and teaches his art, relates to his family and friends, etc.
What the Eastern systems such as Karate have, however, is centuries of culture and a long history of personal development. “Karate ni Senti Nashi” as opposed to Rorion Gracie’s (I paraphrase for copyright reasons, from Inside Kung Fu, September 1998) “ My family’s system is the best in the world for self-defence. Other systems may have a few bits and pieces but we’re the “Mother-Lode”. Which would you rather have your child growing up to be? Someone who avoids trouble or someone who goes around the world thumping his chest and spouting Mohammed Ali like “I’m the Greatest”. I seem to keep hacking away at Rorion - my apologies - his system is fantastic and some exponents, like Rickson, are superb and humble warriors, it’s just Rorion’s salesmanship which is starting to stick in my craw - to answer his own question - “Arrogance? Perhaps. I prefer to think of it as a devout certainty......” Absolutely and definitely and I, for one, do not want arrogant students or children.
Off course, grappling is also fun. It’s the closest thing to a physical game of chess I’ve encountered. You do A, he does B, you counter with C. There’s a flow to it which can be tremendously exciting. If you have teachers like Rickson Gracie or the Machado brothers you will have shining examples of character development. Brazilian Jiu Jutsu has some interesting knife-defence as well.
Essentially, however, it’s a matter of choice. If you do not enjoy rolling on the floor with sweaty men, or if you like practising your high kicks, then you do not need to develop a guilty conscience or a set of excuses. What you need to do is look objectively at why you are practising your Martial Art of choice and whether it is truly fulfilling all your needs. If the answer is yes and the system is Karate, you can happily and peacefully practise it forever, just be courteous to people with Brazilian accents and never, ever pick a fight with anyone who’s first name is “Tank”.